Los Angeles traffic is a continuous loop of dream cars. It’s the only city hosting a new car show where the cars outside the show are better, by and large, than most everything inside.
Out here, people sit in traffic so long they visibly age by the time they get home, so they prefer to slug it out in something special. They’re also overpaid and blessed with year-round sun, so God help them, they indulge. In 15 minutes, I hear the crackling V8 of a yellow and black Aston Martin. Then, the silent whir of an electric BMW i3. Ranges, Jags, AMG Benzes, and Stingrays follow on queue, blurring by palm trees and the Pacific. Base models and cheap bullshit don’t pass in this town.
Now that the L.A. Auto Show is over and we’re nearing the end of 2014, it’s time to think about how you’d actually treat yourself if you made a lot, or if you made a good amount and have no dependents looking for a college education. I’ve been in the latter camp, and the L.A. show only made my decision to buy a sports car — or really, any car, as I’ve never bought one in my 29 years — that much tougher.
To wit, my top three choices:
2015 Ford Mustang GT
Yes, the 2016 Shelby GT350 that debuted at the show is the bigger deal. I’m not sure it’s needed, not when I could spend 40 grand on a loaded, luxurious GT Fastback on 20-inch wheels. I’ve never been a Mustang guy and tend to gravitate to imports, because pony cars are generally made for middle-aged men and young meatheads without a clue of taste. The 2015 Mustang is not their car anymore, I’m happy to say. It looks more expensive, drives with more precision and comfort, and despite all this, feels distinctly American and a tad raw. Best value to tear up the street hands down.
2015 Chevrolet Corvette
It’s unfair to start off describing the Corvette as an “incredible value” because the seventh generation car offers much more than an unbeatable price. It feels like an upscale car, and despite the width and bulk, is light, snappy and oddly fuel efficient for a car with an old-style pushrod V8. I recently drove a convertible during the autumn peak, and couldn’t have been happier, even with an automatic. That’s because this automatic is an 8-speed that delivers crisp, quick shifts that if not Ferrari fast, make the previous 6-speed ‘box feel like it came off a 1990s Buick Century. The only thing I didn’t like was how the various drive modes never awoke the transmission from its default fuel-conscious state. You have to slam the gas first, a foolish maneuver when those giant rear tires haven’t warmed. Otherwise, how sweet it is. I think Corvette stylists went a bit cartoonish in some areas, but that’s forgiven, too. GM engineers and accountants, for once, are in mutual agreement on what their sports car should be, and it shows.
2016 Jaguar F-Type
Now we’re moving up. At $70,000, the F-Type Coupe is the Waterford crystal centerpiece on the dining room table, an artistic, weighty piece that reminds you of its worth each and every day. You’re paying for the body, an all aluminum structure that drips and oozes like a proper exotic car. You have to shell out 100 grand for a V8 to make it wind up like an exotic car, but for me, that kind of frenzied pace is both beyond what I could afford and the accidents I’d probably invoke. Really, the base V-6 is plenty (ask Craig, he’s just as smitten) and for 2016, Jaguar has added the choice of a six-speed manual. The Brits also threw in more standard equipment (like the sport exhaust) and cleaned up the digital displays inside to make them worthy of this decade. I don’t care if the Mustang and Vette can beat it on the straights, because that’s not how anyone drives in real life. That feeling that you’ve made it and want to celebrate every day, that indulging, physical satisfaction you crave? It’s served up by this Jag.
At this price point, there’s also the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 (dangerously quick), BMW M4 (hot, yet boring as a regular 3-series), Audi RS5 (brilliant naturally-aspirated, high-revving engine, superb grip) and the Porsche Cayman S (perhaps the best overall pick, but not the prettiest when the Jag’s in town). It’s easy to love all these cars in L.A. Where I live in Connecticut, I’d have to garage all of these coupes and drive something useful in winter. But that’s the point of buying a sports car, isn’t it? When they’re not in the palm of your hands, they’re always running in your dreams.